George Rossiter delves deeper into Calvin Bassey’s story to give us a taste of what we’re in for.
If five years ago if you’d told an 18-year-old Calvin Bassey that he would be now going into the 23/24 season as a Premier League player and as a full international, he’d surely have assumed the pathway through Leicester City’s academy had worked perfectly for him. The reality, however, is very different. And Bassey’s journey to now, as one of Fulham’s most expensive signings, has been anything but simple.
The start of the journey
Bassey joined the Leicester academy in 2015 and across a five-year spell impressed in their youth setup, regularly playing for the U18 side before progressing to the U23s. This came after a successful trial with the Midlands club, having previously made a name for himself in the CM Futsal Academy, taking a similar path to that of Wolves’ Max Kilman, who actually started in the Fulham academy before moving into futsal prior to starting his professional football career. If you’re passionate about sports and looking for exciting sports opportunities in Sheffield, you might find a promising career path just like these talented athletes.
Northbound to Glasgow
His first big breakthrough came in 2020, moving on from English football to join Scottish giants Rangers on a pre-contract. The success of this move is evident in the business Rangers have done this summer, with a similar move being made for Dujon Sterling, previously of Chelsea. His professional debut came in a league win over St Mirren and a first goal came in the League Cup against Falkirk. Despite very much being a fringe player in Rangers’ title-winning season in 2020/21, Bassey had made a strong impression on manager Steven Gerrard and was very part of the plans for the 2021/22 season.
It would prove to be Bassey’s breakthrough campaign, and my word did he burst onto the scene. When Steven Gerrard was snapped up by Aston Villa, Bassey became a key man under new boss Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. It was in this season that Bassey first showed his versatility, often filling in as a marauding left-back when rotated with Borna Barisic, as well as partnering Connor Goldson at centre back on many occasions as the Scottish Champions faced an injury crisis at centre-back. While Bassey would have been on a high making himself a staple of the Rangers side, he surely could not have imagined what he was able to achieve that season.
Rangers would go onto reach the Europa League final, narrowly losing on penalties in the final to German side Eintracht Frankfurt. Wins over Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Braga were impressive on their own, but Bassey showed individually on a European stage just what he was capable of. He was arguably Rangers’ key man in that run, not just showing his worth to the side with his versatility and defensive ability, but also showing that he belonged among Europe’s elite.
A man in demand
In just 24 months, Bassey had gone from a Leicester academy hopeful to being in the Europa League team of the tournament, not to mention being part of a Rangers team that also won the Scottish Cup, beating Hearts in the final. He was a man in demand around Europe, and when Dutch giants Ajax offered a club record fee of £20m, Rangers could not refuse. It wasn’t just clubs tracking Bassey’s progress…
Bassey was born in Italy into a Nigerian family and developed in England, and was therefore eligible to play for all three countries. However, when Nigeria invited Bassey to join up with the Super Eagles in 2021, Bassey followed the wishes of his mother and declared for the Nigerian national side, who he has now played for on 10 occasions. This will effect Fulham in the winter period this season, as Bassey is likely to head to Ivory Coast for the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
Bassey’s one and only season in the Netherlands didn’t quite go as planned. Making the final of the Dutch Cup was the main highlight in an otherwise disappointing campaign. Ajax finished third in their Champions League group before being beaten in the Europa League last 16 by Union Berlin. They didn’t fare much better in the Eredivisie, finishing third behind rivals PSV and title winners Feyenoord. While Bassey didn’t have the success he had at Rangers, his reputation hadn’t taken a big enough hit for Marco Silva and Fulham’s recruitment to not consider buying Bassey this summer for a fee much different to the one Ajax paid just a year ago.
The start of a new era
Bassey’s previously mentioned versatility could be of great importance to Fulham this season. Last season Fulham struggled for depth at left-back with the injuries to Layvin Kurzawa and the lack of versatility attributed to Kevin Mbabu. Furthermore, with the age of Tim Ream, Bassey could well be an option as the long term replacement at left centre-back for Fulham when Ream does eventually wind down his career.
At left-back, he offers a similar full-back profile to that of Kenny Tete. Someone who is incredibly able in one-on-one scenarios in an era of incredibly attacking full-backs, as well as having the pace and ball-playing ability to get up and down his flank like Tete often does. Equally, his strength and aerial ability mixed in with being composed on the ball will match the attributes Marco Silva likes in his central defensive department.
A lot of players in the English game see their developmental route as coming through an academy, making their name in a loan spell in the English pyramid and then integrating themselves into their club’s first team. Bassey’s path is different. He started in a different discipline of football, took a risk moving abroad at a young age and has showed his ability at two of Europe’s truly historically elite clubs in Rangers and Ajax. These experiences will only have developed him into the brilliant player he is today, as a Fulham player, and as a Premier League player, the league he once dreamed of at Leicester and has now achieved on the banks of the River Thames. His journey has been a fascinating one up to now, here’s hoping the next chapter is a wonderful one.